One of our favorite ways to see Portugal is to take a road trip. The west coast is full of great stops, whether you want to see historic sites, landmarks, interesting scenery and, of course, fabulous beaches. You can go in different seasons for different experiences and go for a few hours or a few days depending on what you want to see and do. We’ll give you some of our favorite stops and suggestions for making the most of them.
We will start about 40 minutes west of Lisbon. If you drive along the Estrada Marginal, you’ll get a glimpse of other beautiful seaside towns you might want to visit on a road trip along the Lisbon coast. There are plenty of reasons to visit Cascais, so we think it’s worth spending at least a few days exploring the city center as well as nearby sights. Museums, restaurants, shops and great views are all around. In addition to spending time in Cascais, traveling up the west coast offers stops that only last a few hours.
Boca Do Inferno
This is where the sea carved out a cave-like cave. When the tides rise, the water sprays a massive screen. Boca do Inferno Literally translates to “Hell’s Mouth”. Amazingly, we saw brave fishermen standing on the high rocks near Boca, braving the elements. We suggest watching from a distance.
Casa Da Guia
For great views, eclectic shops, and tasty bites, Casa da Guia is a local favorite. A former mansion, its grounds have been transformed into a haven of pretty shops, great restaurants and spectacular coastal views. We love having a drink at Palaphita Cascais, a cool Amazonian eco-lounge, or having lunch at LOVit with great sandwiches or sushi. There’s plenty to see and do here, so allow at least an hour or two to wander around even if you’re not staying for a meal.
To discover the wild side of the west coast, stop at Guincho. This area is less developed than Cascais and has a breathtaking rugged coastline. Praia do Guincho beach receives a lot of wind, making it a favorite spot for windsurfers. While the coastline may be rustic, dining can be the height of elegance. Fortaleza Do Guincho is home to a five-star hotel and a Michelin-starred restaurant. If you want to experience luxury without the higher price tag, grab a bite and a drink at Spot, Fortaleza’s casual cafe. If the weather is good, you can sit outside on the terrace. Otherwise, you can safely sit by huge windows that overlook the waves as they crash below. It’s a treat for all the senses and well worth a stopover along the way.
3. Cap de Roca
Cabo da Roca is a unique landmark on the beautiful west coast of Portugal. This promontory is the westernmost part of Europe. When people thought the world was flat, it was considered one of the ends of the world. It’s very windy there, so make sure you come prepared. You’ll probably just want to take a look, so consider this a quick stop. You can see a beautiful stretch of sea and a cliff top lighthouse which is one of the oldest in Portugal.
4. Adraga Beach
Praia da Adraga is a beautiful beach with unique geological features. There are interesting rock formations resulting from the sea carving into the solid cliffs. There’s a parking lot with limited spaces, and since there’s no public transportation to the beach, it’s good for hanging out with the locals and avoiding the crowds. It’s also easy to get to once you get there as there are no cliffs to climb down to get to the sand.
Restaurant Praia da Adraga
For a real treat, seafood lovers won’t want to miss Restaurante Adraga. This little restaurant is right on the beach with a few tables outside and an equally fabulous view of the beach inside. Founded in 1905, the third generation of the family still offers the freshest local ingredients and unforgettable views. It’s a bit pricey and you’ll probably have to call well in advance to get a reservation. But in our opinion, it’s worth it.
If you like the vibe of a surf mecca without the crowds, visit Ericeira out of season. It’s also great fun in high season, but you’ll have to brave the crowds as it’s one of the most popular towns for surf experts and students. This fun town has a laid back vibe with just enough local Portuguese color to keep you aware of your surroundings. Ericeira is mostly flat and walkable, unlike many other parts of Portugal. Seafood is also a big draw. In fact, no less than superstar chef Gordon Ramsay came over for a quiet dinner at Esplanada Furnas, where he gave his “five-star” approval and broke a Photo with staff.
The fishing town of Peniche is also the birthplace of Portugal’s delicate and decorative bobbin lace. There is a local museum dedicated to the craft, and the annual International Bobbin Lace Fair attracts visitors from all over the world. There are plenty of attractions like forts, museums and churches to explore. Peniche also hosts many sports tournaments and championships in everything from beach volleyball to kayak surfing.
Berlengas Nature Reserve
The Berlengas Archipelago, a small group of islands just off Cape Peniche, is of particular interest to birdwatchers and nature lovers. This rich ecosystem is home to many birds, including several endangered seabird species. The area has been listed by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve, signifying its importance. You can visit Berlenga by boat and enjoy bird watching, cave exploration, SUP, canoeing and various other activities.
Those looking for the 100ft wave have learned that the seaside town of Nazaré is where it can be found. Guinness certified that the biggest wave ever surfed was 86 feet at Nazaré. The previous record was also in Nazaré. People come to watch the extreme surfers in the winter when the waves are up to them.
But, for those looking for quieter pursuits, the other side of Pointe de Nazaré offers a fun and bustling town with plenty of shops and restaurants as well as a huge sandy beach for beach volleyball, swimming and Sun bathing. The strip along the beach is full of places to buy fresh seafood at a good price. We had lunch at Adega Oceano, which has a hotel above in case you decide to spend the night by the sea.
Often called the Venice of Portugal, Aveiro is a favorite stop for us along Portugal’s beautiful west coast. The town itself is inviting and fun, with its moliceiro Gondola-like boats dot the central canal that runs through the city. You can take a tour along the canals and see the city from a river perspective. Like many places in Portugal, Aveiro also has its own special sweet. In this case, Ovos Moles de Aveiro are paper-thin wafers in various shapes filled with a creamy egg and sugar filling. A walk through the town also delights with many tiled buildings and art nouveau architecture and an art nouveau museum. Aveiro also hosts the University of Aveiro, adding the diversity and energy usually associated with university towns. And, of course, there’s plenty of delicious food, including seafood, to enjoy in this seaside lagoon city.
About a 10 minute drive from Aveiro is the charming seaside town of Costa Nova. We think both are must stops. In this small seaside town, you can see the fun houses that were once small fishermen’s houses painted in alternating white and colorful stripes. Many homes have been extended and restored, making beach residences a fun sight to behold.
While there are plenty of places to continue north on a road trip along the beautiful west coast of Portugal, we will end our road trip by moving a bit inland to Porto. Second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon, it is also undoubtedly one of the most picturesque. There is so much to see in Porto; we recommend that you give yourself at least a few days to explore and enjoy it.
Sao Bento train station is a blue and white masterpiece of Portugal azulejos floor tile. The Majestic Café offers coffee or tea and sweets in a beautiful Belle Epoque building. It’s easy to marvel at the Livraria Lello, with its red-carpeted staircase and author’s heads popping off the shelves. No wonder it inspired author JK Rowling to create Hogwarts for the Harry Potter universe when she lived in the city. Amazing food and wine is everywhere and those with big appetites will want to try a Francesinha, the biggest meat sandwich we’ve ever tried.
Vila Nova De Gaia
Across the bridge from Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia is a must for Port wine lovers as it is the hub of the industry. All the major producers are present with tours and tastings readily available. For a unique Portuguese wine experience, the new WOW (World of Wine) is like an amusement park for oenophiles. The Yeatman Hotel is an absolute luxury experience that will make any visit memorable and unique. The river view creates an impression that will last a lifetime.
Whether you’re heading out for a few hours or want to spend a few days on the beautiful west coast of Portugal, discover some of our favorite stops on your own road trip.
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